Harmony Bills a new, democratic way to lawmaking?


Saifuddin Abdullah, Fz.com

THE draft National Harmony Bills have received positive feedback from various stakeholders involved in the consultation process on the bills thus far.

The consultation process is conducted by the Law and Policy Committee of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), which is responsible for preparing the bills. The bills are among the proposals in the NUCC’s holistic report which is expected to be submitted to the Prime Minister in September this year.

The Law and Policy Committee is chaired by Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (MP for Parit Buntar). Lim Chee Wee (immediate past President of Malaysian Bar Council) is Deputy Chairman and I am honoured to be one of its members.

The positive feedback received is on the substantive aspects of the bills. The bills’ aim is very clear and is a part of the NUCC’s initiative to strengthen unity, national integration, equality and prevent unfair discrimination.

The Harmony Bills have three specific objectives which are stated in each of the bills.

Criminalising hate speech

Firstly, to make religious and racial hate speech a crime. This is stated in the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill. The bill criminalises incitement against Rulers and incitement based on racial and religious hatred.

Secondly, to ensure equality and to prevent unfair discrimination based on grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth, gender or disability. This is stated in the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill.

This second bill is consistent with Article 8 of the Federal Constitution and aims to provide procedures for dealing with unfair discrimination as well as raising public awareness to eliminate and reduce unfair discrimination.

And thirdly, to provide a private law remedy for unfair discrimination through the establishment of a National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission. This is stated in the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill.

The bills take into consideration fundamental contexts, for example, the Federal Constitution, Rukunegara, social contract, history and culture; freedom of speech and expression; and the New Realities of today, eg., ICT/social media, new social consciousness/movements, third phase of democracy, educated citizens, urbanisation and the middle class.